Thoughts on Elmore Leonard and Writing Whatnot…

He will always be my King of Cool. The epitome of what it means to be a Working Writer.

I just found out Elmore Leonard died last week.

I have been a fan of his for a very long time. I discovered him about the time I discovered Quentin Tarantino (and for about the same reasons).

Then, this one time, I got to fangirl him for legit. I was working as a freelance reporter in the Arts and Entertainment beat of the local newspaper, The Norwalk Hour in Connecticut, when my editor called me:

“So, Elmore Leonard is coming to town. Wanna–”

“YES!” I answered before she’d finished.

I don’t remember how I got it (I used to have stunning fu about getting people’s contact info) but one day I had his home phone number pushed into my phone and was trying to pull myself together as it rang.

It was amazing!

I had talked to a lot of authors and artists, some of them quite famous, before him, but he was the first author I talked to who talked about writing like it was a business. Like it was  a job. A job that he was good at and that should, and did, pay him well. He talked about why it was easy for his books to be turned into movies, because he wrote them with a possible film in mind. He knew that Hollywood was where the money was, what paid the bills, but it wasn’t where he got his fulfillment.

“It’s easier to write screenplays, but it’s no fun. You don’t get to make any of your own choices; everything is a committee and meetings. You’re just so restricted in that format.”

He talked about how, as much as the bottom line mattered, doing what you loved mattered more. He’d never taken a day off from writing, even on book tours and family vacations, he wrote everyday.

“I do all my writing long hand, so I can write anywhere.”

First of all, how wicked old-school cool is that?!?!

Secondly, I really needed to be reminded of that this week, the balancing of working for a paycheck and working because you love it and don’t want to do anything else.

You see, I got my first royalty check this week. SO STOKED! I had honestly forgot that, holy shit son, I GET PAID FOR THIS NOW! Like it’s a legit job.


I mean, I’m not quitting my day job and buying my cabin in the woods anytime soon, but still. It was the final push I needed to remind myself that I needed to be writing MORE. I liked this getting paid thing. But, after counting the books I’ve sold and counting everyone I’ve ever met in my life, it dawned on me… I need to meet more people or write more books. Writing books sounds easier.

Of all the authors I interviewed for their upcoming appearances at local libraries, bookshops and universities, I only wound up going to two of the actual events. One was for Nicholas Sparks because I was curious (think Gilderoy Lockhart at Florish and Blotts in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and the other was to New Canaan Library’s Author’s Speak. Couldn’t have had two more different experiences… though they both had great things to say about writing and about readers. Sparks’ crowd was made up ENTIRELY of woman, mostly in their 20s and 30s. For Leonard, the crowd was much more mixed gender-wise, as for age, me and my friend A.J. were the youngest by a decade at least. (If any of you whippersnappers make the mistake of asking “Who is Elmore Leonard?” expect a lecture and a list of books to read and movies to watch!)

And of all the authors, actors, musicians and artists I’ve had the great fortune to interview and write about, the fact that if you Google me, even now with everything else going on, this article on Leonard’s website still shows up always makes me giddy. It’s not my best writing, but it was one of my best subjects.

He will be missed.



5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Elmore Leonard and Writing Whatnot…

  1. Jonathan Andrew Sheen

    I think it was Elmore Leonard who once said that there’s no such thing as “Writer’s Block.” “Can you imagine,” he said, “having a stopped-up sink, calling to get it fixed, and being told, Sorry, I can’t come out today. I have Plumber’s Block.

    Man, whenever I sit staring at a blank page — or a blank screen — I remember that, and, BAMMO! what a bitch-slap! (Mind you, it doesn’t make me suddenly start pouring out the prose, but it does make me feel like a jack-ass about it!)

    1. Tamela J Ritter Post author

      I was lucky to interview a fair few of my favorites… and some of them (like Leonard) remained so after. Some sadly, disappointed me in real life. Others though I didn’t really know until I talked to them and then fell in love with them. Colum McCann was a great surprise. <3 Have you read anything of his?

  2. Shannon Cook

    Stephen King talked about Elmore Leonard in an article I happened across, which you know made me go see who this fellow was. I immediately recognized his book titles and picked up Out of Sight sometime last year and read it. It takes a lot for a book to stick with me. But those characters were ones I really, really liked. He doesn’t write like a “writer”– he writes like a real life person who knows what he’s talking about. He’s so relatable, such great characters, and you know the plot is flawed from the beginning in the sense that you know it can’t end well, but you certainly don’t mind the ride to get you to the end.

    I look forward to reading more of his stuff– and this was a great piece on him, lovely.

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